Jonathan Personne Explores the End of the World on Debut Album

Photo: Dominic Berthiaume

When listening to Histoire naturelle, the excellent debut album by Jonathan Personne, alias of Corridor singer and guitarist Jonathan Robert, one gets a sense that the breezy project was composed in a matter of days, such is the cohesiveness of the project.

The exact opposite occurred though. The project started out about four years ago when Robert received an 8-track recording device as a Christmas gift from his girlfriend.  Experimentations with the recorder lead to the “unexpected result” of his first album, which was stitched together in the last year or so. “I think I was able to achieve something narrative through the whole album, even if it wasn’t the original goal,” Robert says about the project.

Driven by the theme of “the potential end of the world,” Robert looked to the Museum of Natural History for inspiration when crafting the album its title track in particular.  “It’s just a song about seeing me in the future and how humans will perceive our era,” Robert explains, “the same way we perceive the caveman. Like when we go next to a cellphone and a bottle of beer [laughs], instead of the caveman trying to make a fire.”

Histoire naturelle’s 12 tracks vary in style, from desert dream pop and spaghetti western rock to jangle pop.  “Comme personne” and “Sans nom” get the album off to a rousing start, but for the most part the rest is a more tranquil affair.  The bare arrangements have the effect of highlighting the songwriting skills of Robert, normally hidden under the layers of guitars and murky post-punk atmospherics present in Corridor’s music.

This results in the standout track from the album, “Dernier voyage.” A beautiful song draped with sparkling guitars and piano chords, with Robert’s voice floating above them, intoning us of his final voyage to an unknown destination. If this is Robert’s ode to the end of the world, it’s certainly a beguiling send-off. Tying everything together are several lo-fi interludes mostly composed of found sounds and ambient guitar, creating a world within the album for listeners to inhabit.

Robert is also a visual artist and illustrator, designing the artwork and posters for Corridor and other local acts.  With his solo project, Robert was able to apply the same solitary discipline of his visual art onto his musical vision.  “I always like to have input on the visual aspect of my music,” Robert says, “I think it’s very important. I’m kind of a control freak, and that was not complicated for me for this one because I was kind of alone to lead that project.”

However, that doesn’t mean Robert is clamoring to work more outside the confines of his main musical project.  “I think sometimes it makes me more appreciative of my relationships with my mates in Corridor,” Robert remarks.  “I think it’s really hard to have a whole project on your shoulders, and it becomes really exhausting at the end. So that’s why it took me four years [laughs], I didn’t want to have that much pressure.  It made me realize that it’s nice to have a great team too. Both are really interesting aspects and I love both, but you really need to choose with who you work.”

It’s no surprise then that for a solo album, Histoire naturelle features plenty of collaborations, including with members of Ponctuation (whose Guillaume Chiasson co-produced the album), VICTIME, Laurence-Anne, and even his bandmates in Corridor.  It was a natural decision for Robert, due to the spirit of comradery from the recording sessions.  “They were my friends,” the artist notes, “so that was not complicated, I was just telling them what to do. I didn’t have to debate on where the song was going, so that was pretty simple and pretty easy.”

It’s those same friends who will be aiding Robert bring his solo project to life in front of an audience for the album’s launch show.  “I’m excited,” Robert notes, “because it’s not going to be the first show we’re making. We kind of kept a really low profile for that aspect of my life when I was doing shows as Jonathan Personne in the past.  It’s going to be the ninth or the tenth show I’m doing with the project, but I’m excited. In the end I’m gonna play with people I’m used to playing with.”

Whether Robert’s songs as Jonathan Personne will influence Corridor’s own future output, the artist doesn’t see that happening.  In fact, Robert doubts future material under his nom de plume will sound like the quieter and reflective passages that mark much of his debut.  “I know when I compose melodies,”Robert says, “it’s kind of obvious to me [what] doesn’t stick to a Corridor song, so I better keep it to myself. Even when I’m jamming with Corridor, there’s some riffs I get my bandmates [to say] ‘keep that for yourself’ [laughs].”

Jonathan Personne performs at L’Escogriffe (4461 Saint-Denis) on Saturday, Feb. 16, 8:00 p.m., $10

Alex Viger-Collins is the host of Ashes to Ashes, your weekly dose of modern pop, every Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.